In February 2005 International Water Power & Dam Construction published an article by myself where I argued that the UK is overlooking the potential energy from 20,000 weir and watermill sites in the UK.

The British Isles has adequate sun, wind and rain such that we could be making much better use of these resources – but progress is slow. Our politicians, planners, regulators and even our professional engineers, all lack the knowledge and conviction to change this situation.

They are even reluctant to go and see for themselves – perhaps the following pictures will tell a story, but will anyone recognise the opportunities in the UK?

A trip across the channel to mainland Europe reveals a very different picture. Between 15-24 September 2005 myself and Andrew Whiting travelled 2100 miles across France and Germany on a business trip by car and bicycle visiting manufacturers of renewable energy equipment and projects that we came across purely by chance. No research was undertaken for our route. Our remit was to avoid all large towns and motorways, to follow river valleys for easier cycling and to keep our appointments.

Much of France, Germany and the Benelux countries enjoy the same weather patterns that flow from West to East across the British Isles. They also have numerous small rivers, as we do, and many old water mill sites. The Black Forest is similar in some ways to the five valleys at Stroud in Gloucestershire. The difference is that they continue to use and invest in their old mill sites, whereas in the UK we do not.

Manufacturing industries are willing to invest in modern hydro power and solar power on the same sites. If we were to follow their example our valley rivers would have numerous small hydro power installations and the 42 Thames weirs would all be providing electricity!

Below are photographs which show that renewable energy is evident in Europe.

Pictured above is a view of a vintage water pump at Brezolles, South of Paris.


Crossing the Rhine near Marckolsheim.

EDF, which produces 80% of its power from Nuclear, proudly displays its hydro power sites on the Rhine, as shown below. Where could you see such an educational exercise in the British Isles – other than Scotland? Similar display boards exist at other EDF sites.

In the case of the UK, there are more than 20,000 run of river hydro power sites, the Severn Barrage alone could produce 8000MW!

Cycling the river valleys, numerous hydro sites could be seen. Below is a view of a new low head 40kW site.

There were also examples of properly engineered intakes. This modern intake pictured below, for example, has an inflatable weir, hydraulic screen cleaner, washout sluice and a hydraulic arm for disposal of trees etc.

Tilt gates are common place.

Below is a view of a typical saw mill. This project in the Black Forest produces hydroelectric power and is grid linked.

Below is a view of the intake screen with hydraulic rake.

View of a simple weir

The next two pictures show the tailrace and headrace, respectively.

In this example the ‘Muhle’ or Mill has been restored beautifully. The wooden undershut wheel revolves at 6RPM. A modern gearbox drives an alternator. The site produces 33kW and is grid linked.

Unlike in the UK, minimum flows only are required over weirs. Weir pools and head waters were alive with trout, Chubb etc. Kingfishers, Dippers and other birds were plentiful.

At the Mill at Schiltach, mill gearing can be disengaged. The project has a speed increasing gearbox driven alternator.

Below: Museum in background – saw mill upstairs

Following is a view of saw mills where both hydro and solar power are in operation.

In Europe modern control gates and inflatable weirs not only provide hydro power but also flood control and river management. An integrated approach shows cooperation between private investors and planners.

Hydro appears to be better understood and appreciated in mainland Europe. For example, this photograph shows a tilt gate in a public park. Note there are no guard rails.

Below we see that pre-war hydro sites have been modernised and updated.

During our travels we came across numerous small companies all providing employment in prosperous communities. This includes solar, wind and hydro power.

Our visit to Ossberger for example showed a progressive company with quality products and many years of experience.

Many European rivers provide both hydro power and transport. The river Mosel is no exception. The Mosel rises in France, flows through Luzembourg and joins the Rhine at Koblenz. The Mosel is 270km long. It drops 110m, has 14 weirs and locks with hydro power at each site. Each lock has display boards providing information.

By contrast is the case of the river Thames. This rises in Gloucestershire and flows into London. It is 160km long, drops 78m and has 42 weirs and locks – but no hydro power. Both the Mosel and Thames have similar gradients, both have locks for navigation. The Mosel has hydro power, but the Thames has none!

Isn’t it about time we made use of the resources we have in the UK, in the same way they do in mainland Europe?

Osman Goring, Water Power Engineering, Coaley Mill, Coaley, Dursley, Glos GL11 5DS

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